The Dallas Mavericks (19-22) make a trip up north to visit Thib-less Minnesota Timberwolves (20-21), the teams’ second meeting this season. They last met way back on October 20th, a completely defenseless affair that saw the Mavericks seal it late with a Dennis Smith Jr. and-one, winning 140-136. No. Overtime.
Since then the Mavs have been up and down, and the Timberwolves have had plenty of player and coach drama for the entire league. Now the Mavericks continue to search for their footing entering the second half of the season — they currently find themselves just 3.5 games out of eighth place, but tied for 13th, in the West. Games like this are already must-win.
Here’s what we’ll watch for tonight:
Maxi-mize the starters
Dennis Smith Jr. isn’t making the trip to Minnesota, and in his recent absence Rick Carlisle has turned to second year big man Maxi Kleber to fill in with the starters. Wednesday night against the Phoenix Suns he showed up. With 13 points, nine rebounds and two blocks, Kleber hit two threes (2-of-4) and was a plus-nine in a 10 point win. Doncic received due credit for much of that win, but Kleber’s energy, defensive prowess and hustle was a major factor.
Carlisle hasn’t been particularly consistent in the minutes he gives to certain bench role players, sometimes not playing them at all with little explanation. But Kleber should continue to be given the opportunity. He bolsters the defense down low with DeAndre Jordan, and compliments the offense. The Mavs will have their hands full with Karl-Anthony Towns, who posted 31 points in their first meeting. They’ll need big minutes from Kleber. It’s a small sample size, but the Mavericks are 3-1 when Kleber starts.
The three ball
The Mavericks attempt the fifth most three pointers per game in the league at just over 34 attempts. When they beat Minnesota back in October they attempted a startling 50 three pointers (hitting 17). Luka Doncic and Wesley Matthews attempted 20 between the two of them.
The Mavericks are hitting the same amount on the road as they do at home, though they attempt a few more per game away from the AAC. But in their three road wins, the Mavericks have shot 40 percent from deep. In two of those, visits to Houston and Charlotte, they hit 17 and 18 respectively. Look for the Mavericks to find rhythm from deep early.
Mavs Moneyball’s Doyle Rader dug in to the specifics after the Phoenix Suns matchup Wednesday night, when Rick Carlisle adjusted his typical rotations and had Luka Doncic subbing out early to come back in with the full second unit. Something that’s been rarely deployed this season. Carlisle said he hasn’t looked at the analytics of the change (something that actually wasn’t that successful Wednesday), but that he’s playing around with rotations as the team continues to deal with injuries.
Dennis Smith Jr. will be out again Friday night, but Dirk Nowitzki looks to be returning. Whether Carlisle continues to play with his subbing patterns remains to be seen. But this is an easy way to experiment, and try to jump start this team out of the mediocre stretch they’ve had lately. And strategy aside, might give Luka Doncic a chance to dominate weaker lineups on any given night.
How to Watch
Tip off is set for 7 CT, and can be watched on FSSW, the Fox Sports Go app, or NBA LeaguePass.